Hundreds of people lined the docks near Tokyo to see a sophisticated Japanese destroyer begin its historic mission to support the U.S. led war on terrorism. This deployment puts Japan into uncharted waters in the post-World War II era.
The rising sun flag of Japan's navy fluttered on the Kirishima, an Aegis destroyer, as it left the port of Yokosuka for the Indian Ocean. Hundreds of people were there to see it off. Ultranationalists cheered while leftists protested, arguing that the destroyer's dispatch could lead to a violation of Japan's pacifist Constitution. Family members cried and waved at the 250-member crew.
The ship is equipped with the Aegis computerized radar command system, which can track and shoot down several aerial targets at once.
Japan last month extended by six months its non-combat support in the Indian Ocean for the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan, but stopped short of sending an Aegis destroyer. However, after a visit to Tokyo by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the government decided to beef up its military presence in the region.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said he hopes the country will support the mission. Mr. Fukuda told reporters he wants the public's understanding of the controversial issue because the country's Maritime Self-Defense Force, as Japan calls its navy, is going to work for the international good.
Since the end of World War II, Japan's Constitution has barred it from waging war except in self-defense. Because of the Constitution, Tokyo has limited its participation in the war on terrorism and other conflicts to support roles, such as sending logistics ships or medical teams.
The deployment of the high-technology Kirishima has raised some fears that it could be drawn into fighting, particularly if the United States attacks Iraq. Washington threatens to use force against Iraq if Baghdad does not fully comply with United Nations resolutions demanding it disarm.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says the Krishima and other ships merely provide support for the international campaign against terrorism and will not take part in any attack against Iraq. Opposition politicians are skeptical. They warn that if the destroyer directly assists the United States in waging war, it would violate Japan's Constitution.